At least three rappers with ties to the booming New York drill scene — which has risen in popularity in recent years, even as law enforcement officials and politicians like Mayor Eric Adams have questioned its relationship to local gun violence — have been removed from the lineup of the traveling rap festival Rolling Loud, scheduled for this weekend at Citi Field in Queens, at the request of the New York Police Department, the artists’ representatives said.
The rappers included Sha Ek, a 19-year-old from the Bronx; 22Gz, an influential figure in Brooklyn’s drill movement; and Ron Suno, a musician and comedian from the Bronx.
Rolling Loud, which is scheduled to run from Friday to Sunday, and the New York Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the rappers’ removal this week. But the last-minute cancellations matched a similar scenario ahead of the festival’s New York stop in 2019, when five artists, including 22Gz and Pop Smoke, had their performances scrapped.
The rappers had “been affiliated with recent acts of violence citywide,” according to a letter sent by an assistant chief at the Police Department to the festival organizers at the time. “The New York City Police Department believes if these individuals are allowed to perform, there will be a higher risk of violence.”
Tariq Cherif, a founder of Rolling Loud, said then that the festival had no choice but to comply if it wished to return to New York. A representative for Sha Ek and 22Gz said this week that the artists were paid in full for their performances.
But on Thursday, Stanley Davis, a manager for Sha Ek who is known as Noodles, said in a statement that his client had not been charged with any crime that could justify his ban. “The police try to associate what he’s doing with violence and negativity,” he wrote. “They don’t respect that he’s an artist and entertainer trying to better himself and feed his family at 19 years old.”
Davis added, “Sha Ek has performed all over the Northeast this year. The crowds at his concerts are full of kids dancing and having fun. He’s excited to keep growing his touring business and proving the police wrong.”
Diamond Brown, a manager for Ron Suno who goes by Bo, said via text message: “How can a person who has no criminal record and no gang ties — the kid never even made a diss record — be denied to perform in his hometown after all his hard work?”
Suno had been involved in a fight at last year’s edition of Rolling Loud in New York, but he downplayed the incident in subsequent interviews and on social media. No charges were filed.
A spokeswoman for 22Gz’s record label, Atlantic Records, confirmed his removal but declined to comment further. 22Gz is currently out on bond after being charged in June with attempted murder for his role in a Brooklyn club shooting that injured three people.
Drill, which started as a neighborhood hip-hop sound in Chicago about a decade ago, has since traveled to London, New York, Stockholm and beyond, becoming a dominant mode for rap music. But the proudly hyperlocal artists, whose songs are often a reaction to and a documenting of gun violence, gang disputes and extreme poverty in their hometowns, have also faced heavy scrutiny from community leaders and law enforcement officials, who claim that the music incites more violence.
In the United Kingdom, drill artists have said their lyrics and their very existence have been criminalized, resulting in constant scrutiny. Chief Keef, one of drill’s pioneers and a breakout star from Chicago, has also been prevented from performing in his native city, or even nearby, with police once shutting down a concert in Indiana in which Keef was appearing only via hologram from California.
In New York, Mayor Adams has questioned whether social networks should ban drill music from its platforms. “Violent people who are using drill rapping to post who they killed, and then antagonize the people who they are going to kill is what the problem is,” he told reporters earlier this year.
The mayor then met with a coalition of New York rappers to discuss drill and potential ways to reduce gun violence in the city. Two of the drill artists who sat down with Mayor Adams in February — Fivio Foreign and B-Lovee — are still scheduled to perform at Rolling Loud this weekend.
Since its 2015 debut in Miami, Rolling Loud has grown into the defining and farthest-reaching music festival for rap, though it has also been connected to spates of arrests and occasional violence. Headliners this weekend in New York include Nicki Minaj, Future, ASAP Rocky and Playboi Carti.